Swimming: More work to be done as S'pore athletes miss out on Olympic berths

National swimming head coach Stephan Widmer (left) and national training centre head coach Gary Tan at the Liberty Insurance 51st Singapore National Age Group Swimming Championships Major Games Qualifier.
National swimming head coach Stephan Widmer (left) and national training centre head coach Gary Tan at the Liberty Insurance 51st Singapore National Age Group Swimming Championships Major Games Qualifier.PHOTO: ANDY CHUA/SSA

SINGAPORE - With just four months to the Tokyo Olympics, it is back to the drawing board for Singapore's swimmers after they fell short of expectations at this week's Liberty Insurance 51st Singapore National Age Group Swimming Championships (SNAG) Major Games Qualifier.

Stephan Widmer and Gary Tan, respective national head coaches for swimming and the training centre, had expected about five more athletes to make the Olympic 'A' cut at the meet. But there were none after five days of racing at the OCBC Aquatic Centre.

Among the candidates expected to meet 'A' times included two-time Olympian Quah Ting Wen, sprint queen Amanda Lim and Maximillian Ang.

To date, Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen are the only two swimmers who have earned their tickets to Tokyo.

The March 17-21 competition was the second of three local meets for swimmers to qualify for the Tokyo Games, with the first being December's Singapore National Olympic Qualifier.

Widmer said: "Most of the swimmers haven't tapered for about 14 to 15 months (owing to Covid-19). I did think that we could still feel that, it's reality and it wasn't easy. The different rules of competition like not having the crowd there was easier for some, but for some it was harder.

"It was the goal to get some athletes to 'A' cuts and we didn't achieve that, but there are some knocking on the door and we had heaps of 'B' cuts again but there was not really a whole lot out there."

While the coronavirus had forced athletes into a long layoff from competition, he insisted: "I don't want to make excuses because that's just the rule of the game. I'm not saying that it was an easy game, but that's the game we've been playing and had to learn to play very quickly."

While he did not go into much detail, Widmer noted that factors such as injury had affected athletes like Gan Ching Hwee, while others such as Quah had not been able to replicate her training performances at the meet.

Despite the setbacks, both coaches said there were still positives to take away from the meet, such as Ang's new national record in the 200m breaststroke.

The duo are still aiming for four to eight swimmers, including those from the women's 4x100m and 4x200m relay teams, to make the Olympic 'A' cut at the Singapore National Swimming Championships in June. 

With the international schedule still in limbo, June's competition is the final local meet for swimmers to qualify for the July 23-Aug 8 Games.

Tan said: "We all still have that hope of them still making it in June. We've come through a really tough season, but we're not going to make any excuses for this meet.

"We've also not performed to our own expectations as well as coaches so it's time that we go back and do a reassessment of what we need to do."

The final race day at the SNAG on Sunday (March 21) saw Jonathan Tan (22.41 seconds), Mikkel Lee (22.62) and Teong Tzen Wei (22.66) meeting the Olympic Games 'B' cut in the men's 50m freestyle, along with Pang Sheng Jun, who won the men's 200m individual medley in 2 min 02.68sec. Tan, Lee and Pang also qualified for their respective events at the year-end SEA Games in Hanoi. Teong qualified earlier.